The role of journalists

In Western traditions of news gathering, journalists are seen as being objective and impartial. Often they are complimented for doing investigative work or castigated for not challenging politicians enough. Ultimately, what comes across is that media consumers have some idea of what they think journalism is. When blogging platforms became easy to use and news creation costs were effectively slashed, a split began to appear between bloggers and professional journalists. Various issues rose to prominence — PR became indistinguishable from reporting and ads started to appear as straight copy. There are still stories of bloggers asking for free food in exchange for positive coverage, for example.

The key question that came up was who is or isn’t a journalist. To answer that and in the process link it back to citizen journalists, the first thing to do is look at the roles of journalism.

Roles of Journalism

A taxonomy of the four normative roles of journalism is provided by Christians et al. Those four are:

  • Monitorial
  • Facilitative
  • Collaborative
  • Radical

Tanja Aitamurto and Anita Varma (2018) add a fifth role:

  • Constructive

Constructive journalism is a type of journalism where a solution for how to solve a societal problem is added to the text. It is also called solutions journalism.

“A constructive role encompasses a wide breadth of journalisms, such as advocacy journalism, impact journalism, heartening journalism, future-focused journalism, transformation journalism, development journalism, and emancipatory journalism” (as cited in: Aitamurto and Varma (2018). Carpentier 2005, 206–207; Hanitzsch 2007, 381; Krüger 2017, 405–406), and has precedents in public journalism, peace journalism, and activist journalism.”

I include a table below from TA & AV about the roles of journalism. In what the authors call the Anglo-Saxon context of the media, journalism is more often thought of as monitorial–it monitors the actions of power; it observes and documents routine and unexpected events, and places a check on power. Its ideals are objectivity, accuracy and transparency. Monitorial journalism provides a watchdog function. The journalist is seen as a neutral observer ‘just reporting’ what they see.

Facilitative journalism provides a conversation about public issues. Its role is one of moderator between different political actors who want to resolve public issues.

Collaborative journalism is the PR/public relations branch of communication. It’s about giving institutions outside the media, a megaphone to advance their interests.

Radical journalism provides scrutiny of power and criticism of existing power structures. Its role is one of a critic and it advocates for change.

Internalising your role as a journalist

The four typical normative roles of journalism are usually embedded within organisations. By joining a PR company, for example, you learn a collaborative mode of communication. You embody and get taught a role by those around you. You report to an editor or a PR boss and are guided to what you can write. Journalists are hired because of their pre-existing outlooks and the type of work they do.

With advocacy journalism, however, not only does it go against the Anglo-Saxon leanings of ‘impartiality’ but it is also more likely to be found in citizen journalism. Citizen journalists are more likely to work as individuals without the top-down guidance on where their roles fit in the media and with their audience.

The lack of structure about which role to take up and the already established advocacy, which is seemingly in contrast to the Anglo-Saxon model favouring impartiality, could make it difficult for citizen journalists to feel they are an authoritative journalistic voice.

Advocacy, however, has never been far from journalism. Choosing who to interview and to whose voice to give prominence, are choices that can promote one perspective over another.

Tom Mills, in his book and research on the BBC, outlined a process of shift where instead of workers’ views being promoted, the voices of business and capital began to take prominence.

In the US, the same phenomenon has taken place according to research published by On the Media.

!The labor beat was sidelined in the ’70s in favor of business and money verticals, in pursuit of wealthier readers. The working class was left without mainstream outlets that spoke about — or to — them.”

Advocacy in journalism is inescapable because, in Fisher’s (2016) terms, “even unwittingly, the simple inclusion of a comment or perspective from a source by the reporter may inject a degree of advocacy to a story … The stronger and more passionately the sources advocate, the stronger the story” (722).

Media Lens have written about the process of how journalism works in practice by structuring the constraints of writers from the top-down. American political writer and media critic Michael Parenti explained powerfully how journalism works in practice. There are five stages of getting from an enthusiastic journalist to one who conforms to a media organisation’s needs. By the fifth stage, the lessons have been internalised to such an extent that you don’t even notice you’ve done it.

As a citizen journalist, however, the constraints are more horizontal than vertical. There isn’t necessarily a boss to tell you not to write something; you see that other people don’t write about certain topics, or you get no response when you do write about them so you don’t continue down that path.

If the ‘impartial’, objective and monitorial role is seen as the standard one, then this constrains the journalists who came to their roles in the media from a world of advocacy.

Starting to see constructive or solutions journalism as an actual journalistic role can help support citizen journalists in finding their own authority. The practice has been identified in the US since 1948 so it’s not new.

References

Tanja Aitamurto & Anita Varma (2018): The Constructive Role of Journalism, Journalism Practice, DOI: 10.1080/17512786.2018.1473041

Christians, Clifford G., Theodore L. Glasser, Denis McQuail, Kaarle Nordenstreng, and Robert A. White. 2009. Normative Theories of the Media: Journalism in Democratic Societies. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Fisher, Caroline. 2016. “The Advocacy Continuum: Towards a Theory of Advocacy in Journalism.” Journalism 17 (6): 711–726.

Chalmers, David M. 1959. “The Muckrakers and the Growth of Corporate Power: A Study in Constructive Journalism.” The American Journal of Economics and Sociology 18 (3): 295–311.

Carpentier, Nico. 2005. “Identity, Contingency and Rigidity: The (Counter-) Hegemonic Constructions of the Identity of the Media Professional.” Journalism 6 (2): 199–219.

Hanitzsch, Thomas. 2007. “Deconstructing Journalism Culture: Toward a Universal Theory.” Communication Theory 17 (4): 367–385.

Krüger, Uwe. 2017. “Constructive News: A New Journalistic Genre Emerging in a Time of Multiple
Crises.” In The Future Information Society: Social and Technological Problems, edited by
Wolfgang Hofkirchner and Mark Burgin, 403–422. Singapore: World Scientific Publishing Co

Real enough?

Harassment of the mayor’s office

Further information to be updated

Becoming a journalist

In today’s thoughts, I’m looking at how we learn to frame stories and examine how this helps you provide authority in journalism.

There’s a scene in Frasier where Roz has just announced she’s pregnant and pretends to Bulldog that it’s his baby. She paints a scene that leaves him terrified and quaking. She then adds on that he was so tender in the morning, at which point Bulldog snaps out of his terror and realises it was a joke. ‘Good one, Roz. You had me going there.’ (link)

That one inaccurate or jarring fact, derailed the whole story. Admittedly, it was a joke story but it is a useful way of looking at how journalists learn to frame stories and how they and any activists soon learn how to stick to the main narrative.

There’s some wiggle room for a drop intro or a tangential anecdote perhaps but once you get to a point that can be used as a distraction from your story, then you’ve lost track of the thread.

For example:

Reporter: Do you admit, Mr Kent that you pulled that phone booth out of the ground when you visited the scene yesterday with your dog Rocky?

Clark Kent: My dog’s name is John. You clearly have no idea what you are talking about and I cannot take you seriously. (or they will answer the trivial question rather than the substantive one)

There’s a new book out called News Framing Effects by

Rooted in both psychology and sociology, framing
effects theory describes the ability of news media to influence people’s attitudes and behaviors by subtle changes to how they report on an issue.

I’ve mentioned previously when talking about the Canary and its lack of a certain newspaper/professional journalist style. How does one learn to write in a way that focuses the story, doesn’t let its content be used to derail the conversation, and is believable as an authoritative voice in journalism.

I want to look at this in exploring how citizen journalists gain their ‘authority’ voice.

When I asked the editor of a local magazine if his journalism course taught him how to keep questions focused so as not to be derailed, he said that wasn’t taught, it was just common sense.

Step one, find the literature.

sitting on the bench in autumn square (Uma painting)

Authority in journalism

Planning an article submission

If I’m going to get a PhD by publication then I need to submit some articles.

My first thought for this thesis, was to start with the authority a citizen journalist needs to (overcome) when starting out. As advised in the book ‘How to get your thesis by publication’, you need a smaller dissertation than of full-thesis PhDs, which will tie it all together, but you also need to have a set of publications that are different but linked.

As I’ve explored the social media effects on local participation, I’ve come upon the fact that much of the social media is separate from ‘established’ or mainstream media. The social media I am looking at, primarily, is conducted by citizen journalists. Being a citizen journalist can be daunting.

Some questions raised by Daniel Jackson in relation to this are: what does it take to feel confident enough to take on that public voice? to speak a truth, to write an article, to ask questions of an authority, etc.?

We look at this through grassroots organisations that have come together for citizen journalism purposes.

I use my example of writing my first long-form investigative articles about the Labour administration in Bristol.

What difference does it make to have a newsroom experience and a hierarchy of establishment media, as opposed to starting up without any support or guidance?

How does knowing media law help? or how does not knowing media law hinder? How do citizen journalists know what to write about?

How do they assess what is newsworthy? What is of public interest?

  • Introduction
  • Methodology
  • Main text
  • Conclusion

Questions:

Do citizen journalists need to believe they are making a difference in order to begin to internalise their position as ‘journalists’ and not just writers?

One definition of journalism is holding the centers of power to account (Amira Hass?)

How much feedback do you need as a journalist in order to feel like a journalist? See imposter syndrome:

In a mirrored fashion to a thesis by publication, the citizen journalist also may find themselves “‘going public’ at a very early stage of your research career — perhaps sometimes before you feel ready. (Lee 2010)

“Although going public is hard for anyone, it can be even harder if it is combined with ‘imposter syndrome’ — feelings of doubts and uncertainty about one’s capabilities. Kamler and Thomson’s description of the syndrome as ‘not feeling entitled to be known and seen as a researcher’ captures the core feature of this condition (2014, p.16).

Also see the reality of algorithms that privilege existing media over new media:

  • Filters on amplification exist and (Basu; Schlosberg) are the algorithms that define what gets shared and brought up on google, facebook, youtube, Twitter etc.
  • Gateways exist through which millions access news –“Google, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are among the new intermediaries through which millions of us access news. Justin Schlosberg (2016)
  • Manuel Castells (2009), though critical of global media corporations, argues that social networking sites offer the means of ‘mass self communication’. They enable users to produce meaning interactively. Anyone can tweet, post or upload a video.”
  • Gateways, however, tend to reinforce mainstream news brands.
  • Schlosberg (2016: 120–2) reveals that Google’s news algorithm systematically favours large-scale and incumbent providers.

References

Kamler, B., & Thomson, P. (2014) Helping doctoral students write: Pedagogies for supervision. New Yor, NY: Routledge.

Lee, A. (2010) When the article is the dissertation: Pedagogies for a PhD by publication. In C. Aitchison, B. Kamler, & A. Lee (Eds.), Publishing pedagogies for the doctorate and beyond (pp.12-29). London: Routledge.

bird with wings in the form of a book

In the Guardian, the clean air zone

In an audience with the mayor (July 2019), cllr Paula O’Rourke brought up some research she had read about in the Guardian to do with polluting cars. She said it was more robust than other analysis because it used MOT data (administrative data is a wonderful resource) and so could track which cars were the most polluting and where the owners lived.

She asked the mayor whether he would assess the research and pass it on to those who were assessing the clean air strategy.

For over 10 minutes he refused to contemplate it. When pushed for the last time, he said the research has nothing to do with him or his office but it is down to ‘brainy guys with big computers’ and not being done by officers.

This was very much a comment that followed Tory policy pronouncements about following the science. It’s ignorant to believe that science is anything but a matter of choices put through methodologies that need to be justified. Nothing just happens. If I choose to use a different set of measures than the latest set, this isn’t a matter of doing the ‘science’ or being brainy, it’s about a choice that will end up being erroneous.

It happens to the best of us. You may spend five years working on your PhD and then have to quickly try to evaluate a book on your topic that’s come out just as you’re about to submit.

More specifically, the CAZ research uses the index of multiple deprivation to assess who will be affected by the changes.

The question is, which Index of Multiple Deprivation data is the technical team using? A new set of measures was released in October 2019, which was just days ahead of the 5th of November 2019 cabinet meeting where the CAZ was decided on. I asked at Cabinet which year’s data was used and did not get a reply. As we can see from the comparison below, there has been a big difference in deprivation in relation to the quality of the local environment between 2015 and 2019.”

The research quoted in the Guardian was by the University of the West of England. [link] “Poor produce fewer traffic emissions than rich but are most affected – study finds”

The main benefit of this study and its conclusions is that it contradicts the mayor’s purported reasoning that he doesn’t want to charge people more because it will disproportionately because it will affect poor people the most. And that it quite specifically he isn’t trying to avoid the ire of drivers who will now be charged but only cares for the poor who might be charged.

His worry is not for the excess deaths due to air pollution in places such as Lawrence Hill, which is one of the most deprived wards in the city, but because they might be charged more, even though research shows they are less likely to own cars or drive.

So let’s see how much coverage has been given to the technical parts of the assessment, who determines ‘the science’, who are the ‘brainy people with computers’

  1. The mayor refused to even say he would suggest it to the technical team.
  1. The mayor refused to even say he would suggest it to the technical team.
  2. What has the news coverage been of this research?

Hypothesis to be checked: For the Bristol Post, the coverage has been focused on charging drivers, how much will they be charged, will they be charged, who will be charged, etc.

21 January 21

BBC Bristol

Bristol247

Bristol Cable

Bristol Voices

Bristol Agenda on BCFM

[to be continued]

human hands knitting sheeps (Rkl painting)

The solid steel ceiling of failure

Failure is my favourite word. Fail at 10 things a day and see how quickly failure loses its impact on you.

I’ve been inspired this evening and made to realise just how unbreakable that ceiling can be for citizen journalists or any media that doesn’t have millionaire backing.

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better” – Samuel Beckett

And from Oprah:

Do the one thing you think you cannot do. Fail at it. Try again. The only people who never tumble are those who never mount the high wire. – Oprah Winfrey

10 years before a sports reporter was finally justified in his claims that Lance Armstrong was a drug cheat, the Sunday Times weathered a £1m lawsuit [link]. They stuck by their reporter though. They even put out an ad for questions Oprah should ask Lance on her program.

And that’s just a whole different world from citizen journalists. If we had a million pounds or three, we’d set up a paper or a magazine. We’d even be local newspaper owners.

But the very first criteria seems to be a lack of resources. You are limited by what you can fight in court, what you can say that the wealthiest don’t want you to say, and what stories you can break as a named authority.

There is a limit to what you can do without money.

Further sources — rounding up

Social media has been in the news recently because the current president of the United States, Donald Trump, was blocked from a succession of them. One side of the argument says that censoring hate speech and speech that incites violence is an important element of freedom of expression (true) and the other suggests that when social media platforms form a monopoly, then censoring speech becomes problematic (also true).

Both cases have merit although Trump could start up a blog on a website of his own and write whatever he wanted. Would that be censored? He has a handful more days of office and could give a press conference every day — would that be reported? I imagine he would be. If he wasn’t then that would be problematic censorship.

However, it is local politics that I’m more interested in and how social media is used at this level. But I can’t just dismiss how it is used elsewhere so I’ve been looking at further literature on the subject.

Manuel Castell has updated his 2012 book Networks of Outrage and Hope looking at networked social movements;

There’s an excellent article I was sent about framed effects and the ‘protest paradigm’ when I mentioned the XR protest coverage in the Bristol Post. It makes the point about the watchdog and guard dog media.

Framing effects of Television News Coverage of Social Protest (2009) Douglas M. McLeod & Benjamin H. Detenber

Abstract: We investigated framing effects of television news coverage of an anarchist protest. Three treatment stories differed in their level of status quo support. Status quo support had significant effects on viewers, leading them to be more critical of, and less likely to identify with, the protesters; less critical of the police; and less likely to support the protesters’ expressive rights. Status quo support also produced lower estimates of the protest’s effectiveness, public support, and perceptions of newsworthiness. The results substantiate concerns about status quo support by showing that it can influence audience perceptions.

I found an excellent-sounding article on The Combined Effects of Mass Media and Social Media on Political Perceptions and Preferences.

AIC [abstract, introduction, conclusion]

Abstract:

Changes in political perceptions and preferences may result from the combined effects of news from various media. Estimating these combined effects requires the best possible, albeit different, measures of news obtained from self-selected mass media and social media that can be linked to panel survey data concerning perceptions and preferences. For the 2017 Dutch national elections, such data is available. Political perceptions and preferences are affected by news statements in self-selected mass media on issue positions, support and criticism, real world conditions and success and failure, in accordance with the theories on agenda setting and issue ownership, social identity, retrospective voting and bandwagon effects, respectively. Combined effects emerge because many people use both mass media and social media. The latter do more than just reinforce predispositions. Social media also have a mere exposure effect, and a multistep flow effect that amplifies news about party successes and failures from self-selected mass media.

Keywords: election campaigns, mass media, social media, partisan selective exposure, news effects

Introduction

Contemporary election campaigns are hard to imagine without voters being exposed to news from mass media such as radio and TV, and newer media such as Facebook and Twitter. The current study goes beyond the previous literature by directly addressing the research question: how are the perceptions and preferences of voters affected by self-selected news content from social media and mass media? Research into the combined effects of news from social media and classic media is still new for two major reasons.

Conclusion

This study is a plea for communication research into the combined effects of exposure to mass media content and social media content, based on the best possible, although imperfect, measures for each. Combined effects research is required to arrive at nontrivial advice on campaigning–and on the media coverage thereof. Which issues should be emphasized and which positions should be taken? Whom to neglect, support, or attack? How to mobilize endorsements from societal actors and the media? How to provoke the media and political adversaries with sharp criticisms and attacks? And above all, how to coauthor media events that will inspire the media to attribute success rather than failure to the party?

I have followed some researchers on citizen journalism and communication on Twitter. As I was scrolling through, they mentioned the idea of ‘minimal effects’ so I searched it up.

New methodologies for researching news discussion on Twitter [link]

[[with homeschooling taking place, and just generally having the girls home all the time, it’s getting a lot trickier to find 30 minutes at a time for my writing, but I’m trying]

strong coffee (series U)

How to do a case study

I have been trying to think how to present a story on the Impact Social reporting. There is so much information and all of it seems to need fact checking. The public are already paying £3000 a month for this information that seems wildly (or at times subtly) inaccurate.

A table format would seem the most useful.

There needs to be an assessment of what the response actually was and how to quantify it.

The council response to paying for this reputation awareness analysis is that residents have complex problems and the council needs tools to find out what these are in order to help address them. This implies that the analysis would be examining the local aspect of the reporting and would examine issues that affect residents.

From looking at some of the analysis, however, it is clear that the focus is on how the mayor is perceived in a general way and in relation to any category of branding.

The SDGs are the sustainable development goals promoted by, among others, NYC commissioners who the mayor has recorded promos for.

However, they have been criticised for their focus on economic growth as the vehicle for promoting sustainability. Philip Alston, the former UN reporteur on extreme poverty says: “Economic growth is at the core of the SDGs and presented as the engine for eradicating poverty. “But after decades of unparalleled growth, the primary beneficiaries have been the wealthiest. Rather than an end to poverty, unbridled growth has brought extreme inequality, widespread precarity in a world of plenty, roiling discontent and climate change—which will take the greatest toll on the world’s poor.” [link]

Not only are they not the method by which poverty will be eradicated, but they also don’t seem to link up to people’s awareness of what needs to happen in the city. It’s quite interesting to see that most of the points (when they are rightly ascribed as such) deemed to be positive and not grassroot responses from residents, they are business-linked and capital-linked issues

Local responses to mayoral actions are invariably branded as negative and they are littered with activities demanding justice for public services, funding, and behaviour. The very first words for the negative trends sections are “Continued activism from campaign groups”.

In the first report, the ‘local’ responses include campaigning to keep libraries open, metrobus spending and failures, criticism of public funds used to pay for £165,000 salaries for council employees, “complaints about cuts to services in deprived areas”, “increasing homelessness”, social housing, cycling, RADE criticisms about air quality, road safety, etc.

One example of a positive trend was the ‘dads and lads’ boxing promotion. The mayor tweeted twice about these events, promoting them as positive — one in February (before Impact Social began their reputation awareness monitoring) and one in April. In reply to the April Tweet was one comment about ‘punching the mayor in the face’ and how that could be a positive thing for engagement, and the other was about the sexist naming of the scheme, which then led the club to say that in fact its work was 35-40% with girls/females.

There were six RTs of the tweet, and these are important because they show that people want to publicise and increase the number of people who see the information. Three of the RTs were by people involved with the gym itself. I can only see five of the RTs on my account so the sixth one could be from someone who has blocked me or vice versa. So from the five, 3 were from the business, two were from people seemingly unassociated with it. The comments were primarily negative.

There were six RTs of the tweet, and these are important because they show that people want to publicise and increase the number of people who see the information. Three of the RTs were by people involved with the gym itself. I can only see five of the RTs on my account so the sixth one could be from someone who has blocked me or vice versa. So from the five, 3 were from the business, two were from people seemingly unassociated with it. The comments were primarily negative.

Two positive sentiments about Empire Fighting Chance were related to residents’ past dealings with the boxing centre and their community work. There was no new positive engagement but a link to past positive behaviour.

Also, see my review of Deborah Jump’s book on the criminology of boxing, violence and desistance [link]: How can this violent sport help in preventing violent crime?

novel writing on ancient a typewriter

Local/national responsibilities

The biggest news in the world right now, locally and nationally, is Covid and associated restrictions. It’s also a useful way to see about the limited powers local governments actually have. And the newsworthiness of it. And how news resources affect news agendas.

Yesterday, for example, was a big day for school announcements. We were told by the government that the schools should stay open but the unions and SAGE (and Independent SAGE) were calling for closures to avoid overwhelming the NHS and killing thousands more people.

Schools are funded through local government from a national-government determined school grant. Academy schools are not under local authority control but there are still some schools that are.

As we were waiting for news yesterday about what was going to happen with schools there was little information provided by local government. A local media organisation, Bristol247, began an update on decisions that schools were taking about closing or staying open; The main newspaper Bristol Post was reporting on closures or otherwise as well. There was nothing I could find on another ‘local’ paper, the Bristol Cable, about school closures.

Schools, and pot holes, and bin collections are the very essence of local government. In 2014, further responsibilities and less money were given to councils under the Care Act.

There’s a space here for trying to understand about how much of news about schools, and what type of news, is considered newsworthy and by which publications. How much of it as part of ‘use case’ process rather than a division through spheres of what is news?

You wouldn’t expect to see an update on the BBC of which schools are closing with the same level of detail as you would on Bristol247 or the Post (primarily the Post) but the BBC does provide a link to regional media sources (link).

One of my stories is about SEND and it got very little traction at all. Such low numbers. I’ve noted with other SEND stories, it takes a big effort to get coverage in the news. One of the issues for this, rather than any issue of deviant spheres not getting coverage, is that the system feels too complicated for many journalists. The issues in the story are multifaceted. The streams of income and responsibility are hard to decipher.

And similar may have been happening yesterday. The news sources may not have been sure what the council’s responsibilities were vis a vis schools. When I asked as to whether they would have expected a communication from the council, the response was that it was surprising they had not heard anything. They would have expected something.

Then there was a conversation about what it was that councils could do and how many schools were academies compared to local authority run– the answer wasn’t certain.

It turns out that 2 secondary schools and about half the primaries are locally run.

Basu (2016) does talk about this in relation to how journalistic practices such as cutting the number of reporters, eliminating specialist roles — we used to have an education editor at the Post but I’m not sure that role exists anymore — and centralising much content has reduced the complexity of stories covered.

Although I note that finding out which schools are closing or not is not a complex issue. Knowing the responsibilities of the council in relation to school closures, however, may just be. Not understanding a story may keep it off the news agenda as much as not wanting to run it for other reasons.

painting of carved door on white bachground

Post-holiday catch up

I have found myself on a bit of a holiday break but am now back to my routine. I kept collecting bits of information and found new sources.

One very useful source was a blog on how to study and write as a researcher — tips etc.

I found the details of what is needed for submission of a journal article — Journalism Studies (below:)

Preparing Your Paper

Articles

  • Should be written with the following elements in the following order: title page (including Acknowledgements as well as Funding and grant-awarding bodies); abstract; keywords; main text; references; appendices (as appropriate); table(s) with caption(s) (on individual pages); figure caption(s) (as a list)
  • Should be between 6000 and 9000 words, inclusive of the abstract, tables, references, figure captions, endnotes.
  • Should contain an unstructured abstract of 200 words.
  • Should contain between 6 and 6 keywords. Read making your article more discoverable, including information on choosing a title and search engine op2

Publication Charges

There are no submission fees, publication fees or page charges for this journal.

(link)

And now it’s time to get back to some thinking and writing.

Impact Social

I’ve written about this before but briefly, the Bristol mayor Marvin Rees paid for a type of brand awareness, reputation management analysis from March 2018. [link]

I broke the story and then it was covered by the Bristol Post and BBC Bristol.

The cost to the tax payer has been, and continues to be, £3000.

Policy or politic-wise, the impacts from this revelation have been the following:

  • At the first full council after this story ran, the Labour administration had one of their cllrs — Marg Hickman — mention it as a joke: ‘people complain we don’t listen and then they complain that we listen too much’ — i.e. the administration claimed that this ‘reputational awareness’ data gathering showed some kind of interest in what people were saying so it could HELP them. Any results from this work would HELP the people.
    • This is an interesting take and could be a useful narrative to use for checking.
  • The second impact from breaking this story and pursuing an FOI (alongside others who also FOId it) has been the release of the reports for years 2018 and 2019. The council’s FOI team said they would not release the documents because they were already scheduled for release in December 2020. The reports from 2020, however, have not been published.
  • An interesting point was made on Twitter about how ethical it might be to collect such information about one’s voters — constituents? Apart from GDPR implications, what are the ethical considerations?
  • Because the reports have been released, we can see what has been discussed and how. Starting from the very first report, there is some clue as to the lack of understanding the company had about what they were reporting.
    • First, note that £3000 a month could have paid for an employee to do this work. Probably much less than that.
    • Second, the information provided does not seem to match up to reality.

Example 1 — first report (March to April 2018):

The report’s ‘analysis’ is divided into positive and negative trends, and each section is provided in sentence-length bullet points. There may be further reporting than just the documents because the contract specified an in-person representation once a month.

In the first report, under ‘positive’ trends, there is the following bullet point: “• Pick up from local political blogs and radio shows that the Mayor is “bringing US style business politics to Britain”

Now, I can see that the mayor might find this type of comment believable; he might believe that US politics is a ‘positive’ thing because he was involved in it as an assistant to Bill Clinton’s spiritual adviser Tony Campolo. In fact, he has brought his seemingly one role — to coordinate with faith (Christian) groups for welfare purposes to Bristol.

However, I found it a curious prospect that the people making such statements would have meant them this way so I searched for the blogs (plural) as cited in the bullet point.

I found one place where this was mentioned; it was on Bristol journalist Tony Gosling’s BCFM show

http://www.radio4all.net/index.php/program/96933

https://politicsthisweek.wordpress.com/2018/04/04/bcfms-weekly-politics-show-presented-by-tony-gosling-100/

I listened to the show and there was an interview on it with outgoing Lib Dem cllr Clare Campion-Smith. The transcript of the relevant section is below. In contrast to any notion of ‘US politics’ in Bristol being a positive thing, the issues brought up were distinctly negative:

  1. Salaries paid for council officials were too high (Tony Gosling linked this with ‘US style politics’);
    • This issue was raised in the ‘negative trends’ part of the report too: “The “four £165k salary jobs at BCC” line was widely used.” New executive directors had been brought in at high salaries. The Chief Executive role had been eliminated;
  2. Marvin Rees was very new to politics and had surrounded himself with other new faces and there was a real loss of political experience; “he doesn’t have a balance of experience and new people”; he’s never been a cllr or an MP.
  3. The mayor was also compared to Trump in terms of coming from outside politics, and called naive:
    1. TG: I wonder whether there’s a bit of a Trump syndrome here? someone coming from outside politics; i mean obviously Marvin’s been involved in the public sector most of his working life but where someone is might be a little bit naïve in certain ways?
  4. There is a reference to bypassing democracy in a sense, although that is implied:
    1. Clare: I think there’s something very strange about democracy, and that is that you do have to take a lot of notice of the people and you’ve got to persuade them, you’ve got to listen to them, persuade them and that takes a bit more time.
  5. Quite a damning comment is made about the mayors being seduced by the role and not being interested in democracy because that takes time. They would rather get things done:
    1. Clare: yes, yes, I think Marvin would like to be more collaborative. I think Marvin has formulated quite a lot of his politics in the USA. He doesn’t come with the same level of experience that George did because George had been president of RIBA and he’d been, he had his own, [] so he came with a different background but I think anybody coming from outside the council, always finds democracy a challenge because it sort of slows them down, and I think, it’s very difficult to concentrate on the hard graft of being a leader especially in a time when you don’t have a lot of money so I think both are rather seduced by being mayors on a global stage and in reality what we want at the moment is a lot of concentration on Bristol and a lot of hard graft.
    2. The point about concentrating on Bristol is also an interesting one, especially as the second mayor spent time in July involved in New York City’s Sustainable Development Goal agenda: “13:45 Record message for NYC Commissioner for #SDGLocal campaign” (link). Quite a few FOIs on the mayor are about all his trips and how they are funded.

As can be seen from reading the above points, the discussion about bringing US politics to Bristol was distinctly not positive.

Ironically or aptly enough, bringing US style politics to Bristol was another story that came up a year later when it was revealed that the mayor met with ‘close friend’ Kris Vallotton (an evangelist US preacher and associate founder of the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry that is known for its beliefs on healing the sick, raising the dead, anti-same sex relationships, anti-abortion, pro-Trump etc.) for US-Bristol ‘trade’ issues. That US-Bristol trade has yet to be unveiled.

This is a tiny exploration into what the reports say, how accurate they are, and what their purpose might be.

One final comment — and I note that my lack of discourse analysis skills makes me think I need to read up on how to do that — the reports brand certain residents as ‘negative’ because they are campaigning to save public services.

‘library activists, complaints about cuts to services, Metrobus issues, increasing homelessness in the city, “• Local action group RADE Bristol is regularly posting detailed scientific air quality warnings which are getting some traction”.

The labelling of these activities as ‘negative’ seems to bely the point made by the council that the reports are being produced so that the council can know about people’s issues.

If the council wanted to deal with these issues (while noting that £40k a year is spent on the Quality of Life survey) would they not be labelled as ‘opportunities’ or something like ‘challenges’?

[further research needed: methods of analysing text (I have studied qualitative analysis; reputation awareness tools]

13:11 Clare Campion-Smith
Clare: the mayor has made a few mistakes with his cabinet, the sense in which, and I am being very open now, in a sense in which he has got too many new people in and he doesn’t have that … he doesn’t have a balance of experience and new people — that’s just a personal view because at the same time Mark Bradshaw went when I went and I think that was sad.
TG: Oh but ‘course, Mark, he didn’t really see through the delivery of metro bus as well, didn’t he? and also we hear about all the changes to much the senior staff at the council as well as people in the cabinet because the council has been defending its decision today, Marvin has, to pay new chief executive directors, there’s four of them, £165k ; now it does seem a little bit steep; we’re being told that there isn’t enough money to go around; that we’ve also got these new faces and I wonder, with all these new people involved, both at cabinet level and the council staff, do you think there’s any problem with that, isn’t that just what Marvin has to do, really? any new mayor is going to come in and think maybe at least possibly think ‘Oh I just need a new broom around here’.

Clare: that is a temptation and i have a serious concern leaving the council that in fact it is in a considerable state of flux. We have had a lot of senior officers leaving and they’ve taken with them a lot of good knowledge and, as i said beforehand, I think that balance of experience and new thinking is helpful but I think we have got too many people who are new to the council. I think the other thing is that… I am quite worried the city , about the fact we don’t have a chief exec , because Marvin himself is new to politics; he’s never been a councillor, never been an MP, so in one sense he’s new to politics, and that’s no bad thing, but, it does mean that you really need a strong, experienced chief exec because that’s the balance between the politics and the executive; Marvin is the chief politician, and I think we probably do need a proper chief exec who can hold the reins as far as the officers are concerned.
TG: Marvin will say, I imagine, is that he… it would be nice to get him on this program but he won’t reply to my requests at the moment, but what he’ll say is that these four chief officers I’m paying £165k each, they are actually in a way better than a chief exec because they have more brain power between the four of them.
Clare: I think that we will have to see how it all pans out but there’s nobody in a sense who can say then I hold the ultimate decisions from the officer perspective and officers; and I mean who’s going to arbitrate if there is a disagreement between those four chief officers?
TG: I imagine Marvin will; that’s his job isn’t it?
Clare: yes, but it’s sort of very useful if you’ve got an officer there as well.
TG: I wonder whether there’s a bit of a Trump syndrome here? someone coming from outside politics; i mean obviously Marvin’s been involved in the public sector most of his working life but where someone is might be a little bit naïve in certain ways?
Clare: I couldn’t really comment on that except that I don’t think he does have the political experience that you gain from being a councillor before moving on to being leader of council or one of those particular roles. and I think that is useful. I think there’s something very strange about democracy, and that is that you do have to take a lot of notice of the people and you’ve got to persuade them, you’ve got to listen to them, persuade them and that takes a bit more time. so, people come in wanting to be new brooms and over my various years, many years with different experiences, I think that the most helpful thing with change is somebody who comes in and observes; and when they’ve observed, and when they’ve understood the system, it’s at that point that they’re ready to make changes
TG: We’ve also seen things bubbling along at the moment , Clare, I wonder what would be your parting thoughts about the way the arena project.. I mean I can remember back to the noughties there were people like John Savage from Business West and he was also a member of the Labour party, constantly banging his fist on the table saying when are we going to get this bleep bleep arena built?
Clare: right, and yes, we’re still saying that when are we going to get this arena built. There was a motion at full council. I voted for it at temple meads because I think it’s a better location . I don’t think it’s an arena at any price so if we can’t get the funding package right then it may be that we have to delay it for a few more years.
..
TG: What about style of leadership because you’ve seen both in action haven’t you?
Clare: yes, yes, I think Marvin would like to be more collaborative. I think Marvin has formulated quite a lot of his politics in the USA. He doesn’t come with the same level of experience that George did because George had been president of RIBA and he’d been, he had his own, [] so he came with a different background but I think anybody coming from outside the council, always finds democracy a challenge because it sort of slows them down, and I think, it’s very difficult to concentrate on the hard graft of being a leader especially in a time when you don’t have a lot of money so i think both are rather seduced by being mayors on a global stage and in reality what we want at the moment is a lot of concentration on Bristol and a lot of hard graft

red dragon and panda as symbol of China
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